Last week, several days of violent riots broke out across France following the shooting by police of a seventeen-year-old at a traffic stop. The rioters tended to come from the banlieues—slum-like suburbs populated by mostly-Muslim immigrants from former French colonies in Africa, along with their children and grandchildren. In other words, they come from the same social setting that has produced so much anti-Semitic violence over the past two decades. Meyer Habib, a French Jewish politician, even termed the unrest “an intifada in the heart of France.” Ben Judah comments on the situation:
The statistics are horrifying: more than 5,000 vehicles burned, 3,400 arrests, 1,000 buildings damaged or looted, 250 police stations or gendarmeries attacked, and more than 700 police officers injured.
But French Jews woke from the madness more nervous than most. Not only was the Holocaust Memorial in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre, the epicenter of the rioting, defaced by anti-police and anti-government slogans, but Jewish shops were ransacked in the community hub of Sarcelles, an ethnically mixed banlieue itself, also on the edge of Paris. Clips circulating on social media showed graffiti warning “we will make you a Shoah” and recorded cries of “death to the Jews.” The deep seam of banlieue anti-Semitism, while not central, had indeed reared its head.
“What does it mean for the Jews?” is, in Paris this week, not a comic question. So far, community leaders have been keen to point out that, unlike in the 2014 riots, the properties of Jews caught up in the rioting do not seem to have been targeted simply for being Jewish. Instead, the kosher supermarket and Orthodox wig shop in Sarcelles that were devastated were part of wider, indiscriminate mayhem. This was a relief to a community which in 2014 saw multiple synagogues targeted by rioters. But in an indication of pessimistic expectations, this in itself is considered positive news for the Jews.
The worst-case scenario for French Jews would be that Macron misses the opportunity and a cycle of ever more violent rioting and response kicks in during the countdown to the 2024 Olympic Games and the next presidential elections in 2027. As the smashed Jewish shops in Sarcelles show, even when the community is not being targeted, it can find itself in the crossfire. And the worse things get, the more the lurking anti-Semitism on both sides of French society risks spilling out into the open.